Pastor Jack Douglas resigns his ministry after a traumatic event and hikes across America. In North Dakota, he finds work on an oil rig until a violent turn of events forces him to seek seclusion in the Alaskan wilderness where he’s stalked by the mythical Amaroq wolf.
In Nome, Jack takes a job on a king crab fishing boat where he continues to struggle with his past tragedies while fighting feelings for the proprietor of a rustic inn, a beautiful Inuit woman, Qaniit.
A man from the past perpetrates a catastrophic event that will once again challenge Jack’s faith. Will Jack survive or will God forsake him once more?
One night a few days later, after spending most of the day in the office, Jack works on getting caught up with the paperwork, payroll, and invoices, ordering, paying bills, and prepping for the next haul. Next to his desk he takes a sandwich out of the small refrigerator he bought to keep meals in so he wouldn’t have to mess up Qaniit’s kitchen, and to avoid her.
Taking his first bite, the office phone rings. Quickly washing his food down with water, he answers on the third ring, “Nasak Fishing Company. This is Jack speaking.”
“Jack? It’s Qaniit,” she says barely audible. “Grandfather passed. We’re all going to the house now.”
His heart skips a beat, not only because he hasn’t heard her voice in days, but with this news. He doesn’t want to go to the house. This is a time for family to be together. He is not family, but an employee.
“Can you pick me up on the way?” she says.
Oh, great. Ulloriaq had given him the truck for a supply run for the boat this day. Although as a pastor he had helped those in this state of mourning, it’s no longer his place. He doesn’t belong, either as a family-member, or as a pastor. But, she needs a ride. “Okay,” he whispers. He hangs up and drives to the Prospector.
Qaniit waits for him on the porch, her long, black hair blowing across her tender, snowy-white face. As he watches her walk over to the truck, he can’t help but think how she has seen so much tragedy in her life. She climbs in, brushes her hair aside, tucking it behind her left ear and revealing to him such a sad face he feels he might die all over again. First her parents, then her husband, now her grandfather. Malik had raised her. Her protector is gone.
After she buckles in, he spontaneously reaches over, takes her hand in his, gently squeezing it. She looks over at him and he removes his hand, putting it on the wheel to drive.
They ride in silence. Jack glances over at her once, but she stares out through the windshield.
He pulls up, parks and shuts off the engine. She climbs out, starts for the house, but looks back at Jack sitting in the truck. She doubles back, comes over to the open driver window. “What’s wrong?”
He looks at her. “Nothing. I’ll take you back when you’re done.” He looks away from her.
“You’re not coming in?”
“No. No, I, I don’t think I should. It’s a time for family.” He looks back at her as her hair falls off her ear and covers half of her moonlit face.
She once again brushes at her hair tucking it behind her ear. “Jack, you’ve been a part of our family for a while now.”
Family? He turns his head away from her again and reaches for the amaroq claw, squeezing it.
“Nothing.” Hiding it from her, he wipes at his eye to catch a tear.
Qaniit opens the truck’s door, takes his hand. “Come on,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” She tugs on his hand, but he doesn’t budge. “Would you come on?” she says pulling.
Defeated, again, he gets out of the truck. As she leads him inside by his hand, his heart races.
The door opens to reveal many family members including aunts, uncles, cousins, and Ulloriaq and Akiak, who both spot the handholding as they come through the door. Qaniit and Jack release their hands. The family surrounds them. Ulloriaq hugs Jack. The aunts, uncles, and cousins all take turns hugging Qaniit and Jack.
Jack has flashbacks. Memories, sorrow, pain. A sniffling Akiak comes over and hugs him, dripping tears on his shoulder. Jack squeezes the kid and says, “I know, kid. I know.”
They stay for a little while, until after the funeral director retrieves Malik’s body. Jack drives Qaniit back to the Prospector, both riding in silence.
Inside, Jack heads for the stairs as Qaniit closes the front door. “Jack?” she calls to him.
He stops and half-turns to face her.
“Thank you,” she says. “For coming in.” She walks over to him, standing a foot away. “It means a lot to me.”
His heart beats faster. He wants to run upstairs, crash down his door, and bury himself in the pillows and hide like he has done so many times these past weeks. “I’m so sorry, Qaniit. Whatever I can do to help.” He looks down at the first step of the stairs.
She examines something on his face, reaches up, he flinches, but she wipes at a small tear welling under his eye. He closes his eyes, tight.
“I’m so sorry, Jack,” she says.
He opens his eyes and discovers tears now dripping from her eyes onto her cheeks. He reaches up and wipes some tears from her cheek with the tips of his fingers. However, she sheds more and begins to quiver. He reaches out and pulls her close, hugging her tightly. She buries her face in his chest.
They embrace for quite some time. Sobbing, she soaks his Prospector T-shirt with her tears. After a minute, perhaps two, they pull back and look into one another’s eyes. Her soul is as void as mine.
Out of nowhere, and at the same time, they kiss and hold it.
In an abrupt second, just as fast as they kissed, they pull apart. “I’m sorry,” Jack says pulling away, looking down and away from her. “I…I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“No,” she says backing away. “No. No, I’m sorry. I…I don’t know what I was thinking.”
She hurries to her room, Jack watching, feeling like a fool for letting that happen, taking advantage of her grief. That is not me. Who I am. I’ve never acted like this in my entire life. What was I thinking? Was I thinking?
He sprints up to his room and does what he had wanted to do all along, jump into bed, curl up, and hug his pillow. He glances over at his family photo propped up against his Bible. He lies there, staring.
About the Author
James Charles has written six books. He is a former Administrator with the Los Angeles Unified School District and an Army Veteran. He lives in Hawaii with his wife, Linda.
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